San Antonio nursing student turned ‘living legend’ wins national award

First Generation Hispanics Helped By A Local Pioneer in Nursing

SAN ANTONIO – A lesson in giving added to UT Health San Antonio’s nursing program thanks to a woman who has broken so many barriers that she’s considered a national treasure.

Norma Martinez Rogers, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, grew up in the projects of Dallas, didn’t speak English until third grade, and had a family that worked multiple jobs to keep her in school. But she says she also had the one thing needed to succeed that has served her well -- the drive to go to college.

“I had a drive, and I knew that I did not want to be poor. I wanted to get educated,” remembered Martinez Rogers, a 50-year veteran of the UT Health San Antonio Nursing School.

Today, she’s a research professor and professor emeritus, with all sorts of letters after her name that show she meant every word of it.

“You have to have that dream, not a fantasy, a dream that you can make a reality,” Martinez Rogers said.

This month, she took her dream to new heights, being awarded the highest honor for any nurse at the 2022 Health Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Martinez Roger is only the second Latina to receive the American Academy of Nursing Living Legend Award.

“I graduated, and I got my bachelor’s at Incarnate Word College, and there were only three of us Latinos at that time. But when I got my Ph.D. at University of Texas at Austin in 1995, I was the only Latina on stage,” said Martinez Rogers.

Since then, the first-generation Hispanic college graduate has spent her time advocating for underserved populations, nursing education, and health care policy changes and mentoring those who have followed her.

“Because there are so few of us Latino nurse faculty, there was no one that I could really relate to. There was no one that looks like you,” Martinez Rogers explained.

Her brainchild is Juntos Podemos, a grant-driven mentorship program that identifies high school students who are interested in health careers and Hispanic nursing students who may need a little inspiration to get to graduation. They are assigned mentors in the form of upperclassmen who have been through many of the milestones they must face to help them stay in class and finish. It’s hard, she says, because many first-generation Latinos face economic hardships that make it harder in those final two years.

Martinez Rogers said having to work and go to school at the same time in a challenging program often is the one thing that keeps a student from reaching the finish line.

But that’s not all. She also founded a program called the International Association of Latino Nurse Faculty/Nurse Leaders, which works to pave the way for Latino nurses to rise in the ranks.

“That organization is to encourage and mentor faculty in our nursing leaders. How do you get promoted? How do you get tenured?” she explained.

No one should be surprised that this inspirational woman has a pretty good motto.

“In order to receive, you must first give,” says Martinez Rogers.

About the Author

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.

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